MacGuffin and the Distribution Gap

MacGuffin, a blog for the “graphic novel bookshop” based in Newport News, VA, is one of the best reads around for in-depth information on new-style comic book retailing.

A post from last week discusses using book wholesalers for stocking. The author points out how effective using multiple suppliers has been for his (I’m assuming) business, and how rare that is in the direct market overall. In this case, being part of the minority is the much smarter solution, especially since Diamond doesn’t bother to keep many titles that should be perennials in stock. From his blog:

I ‘ve talked before (here and here) about how Diamond simply does not stock Understanding Comics. Completely ridiculous, but there you have it. If we want to stock it, we have not choice but to go to another distribution channel. There are occasions when it is available from Cold Cut, but not often and even then the best terms possible are 45% non-returnable with 90% free shipping. Meanwhile both Baker & Taylor and Ingram have it in stock at 40% returnable and free shipping. This is a bestselling title that we feel is important to have available as many days of the year as possible.

In short, comic stores get better deals on graphic novels, especially those from traditional book publishers, without going through Diamond. Since many of those titles include the books that are revolutionizing the comic medium — titles like Persepolis, Mom’s Cancer, or just about all of Pantheon’s graphic novel catalog — Diamond is effectively segregating itself into an old-school superhero-and-adventure-pamphlet distributor. The best stores, those that want to carry the books that the mainstream audience is hearing about and seeking out, are driven elsewhere to get desirable stock, the titles that look to the future of comics instead of the past.

There’s a later followup in which the author elaborates on the discount structure, the reorder penalties (another holdover from how things used to be, when periodicals drove the market), and how it affects mid-list comic publishers like Fantagraphics, Drawn & Quarterly, Top Shelf, and AdHouse. Another conclusion to be drawn from this is that Diamond’s lists of best sellers is ever more inaccurate, since they’ve driven so much traffic elsewhere.

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